Red Sox pitchers – at least for one night – avoided becoming part of a trivia question.
But just barely.
Wanting little to do with Aaron Judge, first starter Michael Wacha and then reliever John Schreiber combined to walk the outfielder three times Thursday, part of an 0-for-2 night that kept him at 60 home runs, one short of the American League record 61 hit by Roger Maris in 1961.
Each walk was booed loudly and lustily by the crowd of 43,123, but they ultimately went home pleased – though perhaps with a tinge of disappointment – when Josh Donaldson hit a walk-off single in the 10th to give the Yankees a 5-4 victory.
Judge, however, nearly won it before that.
The rightfielder, who ignited a comeback against the Pirates by hitting his 60th homer to lead off the ninth inning Tuesday night, came up in the ninth Thursday against righthander Matt Barnes, who did come after the slugger. With the count 2-and-2 and the fans at an eerie hush as seemingly the entire crowd had their phones recording in anticipation of the moment, he just got under a 96-mph fastball and flied to Kike Hernandez on the track, at the base of the wall in dead center, for the second out.
“Thought Judgie had it,” Donaldson said.
Judge did not.
“No. Just got underneath it a little bit,” Judge said. “Pretty windy night. I was hoping maybe it was blowing out the time I was hitting. Just missed it but it lined up for a nice JD walk-off [an inning later].”
Judge, consistently feted by “MVP! MVP!” chants since late Apri, heard those chants the loudest in the top of the ninth when, from the corner in rightfield, his cannon of a right arm nailed Tommy Pham at second for the first out, his on-target throw finding shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a line.
“I mean, the guy is amazing. That play he made, changed the game,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s not only hitting. And we can talk a lot about him, throughout the night, what he did today was really good. He didn't get hits, he got walks, but he changed the game with the throw to second base, and that's what MVPs do. He's been like that the whole season for them. There's a reason they are where they are, and he's a huge part of what they are trying to accomplish.”
Aaron Boone shook his head talking about the throw.
“It’s amazing how well he executes that play, like he’s not in a hurry,” Boone said. “But you can tell he’s done it a million times. He just gets himself in great position, he doesn’t rush, perfect backspin on it all the time. You see Pham kind of thinking about going and then you see him going and you’re like, ‘OK.’ And he just drops it (perfectly).”
Or, as Donaldson put it: “Couldn’t have handed the ball [to Kiner-Falefa] any better.”
Marwin Gonzalez, pinch running for Anthony Rizzo as the bonus runner at second base to start the 10th, came in on Donaldson’s single against righthander Kaleb Ort. Gleyber Torres was intentionally walked to start the inning and Donaldson followed with the game-winner, which also clinched a playoff berth for the Yankees (91-58).
“Just knowing we’re in the dance is nice,” said Jameson Taillon, who struck out eight, matching his season-high, over six scoreless innings in which he allowed four hits and a walk. “Obviously, we’re hoping to clinch the division and do bigger things. We acknowledged it a little bit and moved on.”
Acknowledging it took the form of Donaldson being awarded the player-awarded championship belt given to the player of the game after a given win.
“It was nice to be able to come through for the team,” Donaldson said.
Fans did get to see at least one homer by the Yankees – Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run blast in the sixth that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
At that point Taillon appeared destined for win No. 14, but Clarke Schmidt imploded in the seventh, allowing a pinch-hit, three-run homer to Reese McGuire that made it 4-3. Rookie Triston Casas led off the inning with a homer that made it 3-1.
With the Yankees trailing 4-3 in the eighth, Stanton reached against Red Sox righty Ryan Brasier on an infield single to short. The far quicker Tim Locastro came on to pinch run with Oswaldo Cabrera at the plate. Locastro stole second, though he was initially called out but the Yankees challenged and the call was overturned. Cabrera’s ground out got Locastro to third and Bronxville native Harrison Bader brought him in with a sacrifice fly to center, tying it at 4.
Two innings later came Donaldson’s heroics and a playoff spot secured.
“It’s great,” Judge said. “A great accomplishment, a lot of hard work over the course of the season to get to this point. But I think you can ask anybody in this room, the job’s not finished.”